Clause 24 - Parenting contracts in respect of criminal conduct and anti-social behaviour

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 8 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 2:30, 8 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 57, in

clause 24, page 21, line 33, at end insert

'or any statement by the youth offending team which it believes, in its entire discretion, is appropriate for their side of a parenting contract'.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 58, in

clause 24, page 21, line 41, after 'obligations', insert

'on the part of the youth offending team'.

No. 59, in

clause 24, page 22, line 1, leave out 'must' and insert 'should'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

We are now on to the issues of criminal conduct and antisocial behaviour, and important matters relating to the involvement of youth offending teams. Amendment No. 57 to clause 24(3)(b) would add the same words that we put forward in a previous group of amendments. They would give the provision much greater flexibility, so that

''any statement by the youth offending team which it believes, in its entire discretion, is appropriate for their side of a parenting contract''

can be included. We heard what the Minister had to say when we put forward identical words under an earlier clause this morning, Mr. Cran, when your colleague Mr. O'Brien was in the Chair. I will not need to take up much time because I anticipate that the Minister will have a similar reply. However, we felt that it was important to pursue the issue again, because youth offending teams are in a slightly different position and, we would argue, need greater flexibility. For the avoidance of doubt, the amendment would not simply restrict the words to a statement to say that the youth offending team

''agrees to provide support to the parent'';

instead, it can include anything that the team thinks is ''appropriate''. I hope that even if the Minister cannot agree with us now, he will reflect on the matter, and that he accepts that the amendment is a serious attempt to improve the Bill.

As part of the work that we on the Opposition Benches have been doing to encourage the Government to get children off the conveyor belt to crime, we have heard quite a lot of evidence from people involved with youth offending teams. I have had many discussions about the work that such teams

have been doing not only in my county of Surrey, but across the country. In particular, I have spoken with teams in the north-east of England and south Wales who work with a very good organisation called Outreach. The Minister will know that I have tabled several questions to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about that organisation's work. I may, if I recall correctly, have spoken even to the Minister about it. Also, the subject may have been mentioned in debate.

It is important, while we are talking about the links between youth offending teams and the work that they do with young people who may have gone off the rails, to get on record what Outreach does. It is a national scheme, run by the Army Cadet Force, which has built up many links with youth offending teams across the country. One of the youth offending teams that it worked with early on was that in Rhondda Cynon Taff. I have seen a superb video, produced by Lieutenant Colonel Tony Wood JP, who leads the Outreach project for the Army Cadet Force. It is about his work to get youngsters—mainly teenagers, although some of them are a bit younger—back on the straight and narrow. It uses many military resources that are already paid for by the taxpayer. That is a very cost-effective way of getting young people off the conveyor belt to crime.

A youth offending team might, for example, want to put in a parenting contract that the sort of Outreach programmes on which it works with the Army Cadet Force would be suitable for a particular young person. That is why the work of Outreach is relevant to the amendment and why I hope I am not going wide of the amendment by mentioning it. The Home Secretary has given me a very helpful answer saying that his Department supports the work of Outreach and will continue to do so, and that it recognises that youth offending teams find the organisation useful. I hope that the Minister will respond in a similar way today, because it would be helpful to hear from him on the subject while we are talking about the work of youth offending teams.

Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 deal with the issue of whether any liability arises, in contract or in tort. To a large extent, that is a repeat of the debate that we had this morning about parenting contracts. We sought to restrict the matter of obligations in contract or in tort to youth offending teams. However, I heard what the Minister said earlier about not wanting to have anything about contract or tort applying to anybody. I do not wish to pursue that matter again because that would simply be a rehash of the debate that we had this morning. I do not agree with the Minister, but I understand that he will simply repeat the same arguments.

My final point is on amendment No. 59, in which we return to the issue of ''must'' and ''should''. The aim is to make the language sound less dictatorial. Although you were not present, Mr. Cran, it will not surprise you to hear that the Minister said that the Government were saying that people should simply have regard to any guidance and that it is not as dictatorial as I would suggest. Again, we would hear the same arguments from the Minister. I do not wish

to spend any more time on amendment No. 59. The substance is to suggest to the Committee—and to the Government most of all—that it would be helpful to have wider wording in clause 24(3)(b) to give the youth offending team wider flexibility to submit statements, and not just statements that it agrees to provide support to parents.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is good to see you back in the Chair, Mr. Cran.

The contract that we are discussing would be agreed between the parent and the responsible officer from the youth offending team. The parent will agree to take specific actions to improve the child's behaviour, and to co-operate with support provided or arranged by the youth offending team. The team will agree to provide or arrange support, which will typically consist of a parenting course. Amendment No. 57 is intended to allow the YOT the discretion to include an alternative statement, instead of one that says that it agrees to provide support to the parent, for the purpose of complying with the requirement specified in the parenting statement. Amendment No. 57, therefore, has the effect of allowing the YOT the discretion to decide what it will agree to do as part of a parenting contract, which need not include the provision of support. As I have said in response to amendment No. 44, the effect of the amendment would be to change the nature of the parenting contract, which is designed to provide parents with the support to enable them to meet their responsibilities. The amendment is not necessary if it is the intention that the YOT should be able to include additional material, as well as the statement that it agrees to provide support.

As the clause is currently drafted, the parenting contract must contain a statement by the YOT that it agrees to provide support. However, that does not prevent the contract from containing other statements from going further than that, providing that the parent agrees to sign up. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) is right when he says that our arguments on amendments Nos. 58 and 47 are fundamentally the same. I am not convinced that we need to take up the Committee's time by repeating the arguments surrounding amendment No. 59. I welcome his attempt to speed up our proceedings, even if he does not accept my arguments.

I wish to address his point on Outreach. There is no doubt that that provision is valuable but, essentially, parenting contracts and orders are directed at parents. Providing diversionary activities could be agreed to without the necessity for attachments. There is no problem with that. Outreach would be valuable in other work with children and young people. I do not see the need to amend the clause as the hon. Gentleman proposes in order to allow people to do the kind of good work that he is talking about. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw those amendments.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I am grateful to the Minister for speaking to amendments Nos. 58 and 59 again. There is no point in us rehearsing the same arguments that

we had on the earlier clause. As for amendment No. 57, which is the substantial issue, again I am grateful to him for putting on record that there is nothing in the Bill that the Government intend to be too restrictive.

I still feel it would be better to have a wider wording to make that absolutely clear, and I hope that the Minister will continue to keep that under review because we would be quite happy if the Government were to introduce their own amendment at a later stage, on Report or in another place, that made the wording

''A parenting contract is a document which contains''

(a) and (b) absolutely clear. It would appear, but for what the Minister has just said, that the Government have in mind that it would contain only (a) and (b), and nothing else. The Minister has now helpfully put on record that it could contain other things as well, but it would be helpful to have that made clear in the Bill. I am not going to pursue that today as we have made our point, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.